Parkinson’s disease, commonly associated with elderly people, can also affect the young majorly due to environmental factors, doctors said on Tuesday, observed as World Parkinson‘s Day to raise awareness about the disease.

Parkinson’s disease is a chronic and progressive neurodegenerative disorder of the central nervous system that significantly impacts the quality of life.

Parkinson’s in young people, defined as those under the age of 50, is known as young-onset Parkinson’s disease. Although rare, it can be much more challenging to diagnose and manage than the disease in older adults.

“The exact cause of Parkinson’s disease is not exactly understood, but it is believed to be a combination of factors. Genetics play a role, but young people should also be alert to the lifestyle they are leading as there are many environmental factors that can contribute to Parkinson’s disease,” said Ritu Jha, HOD and Associate Director, Department of Neurology, Sarvodaya Hospital, Faridabad.

“Exposure to air pollution, particularly fine particulate matter, is also a risk factor. It can cause inflammation and oxidative stress in the brain, which can damage neurons. In addition, traumatic brain injuries, particularly those that involve loss of consciousness, have also been associated with an increased risk of Parkinson’s disease,” she added.

The doctor also said that exposure to certain pesticides and herbicides can damage the dopamine-producing neurons in the brain, which are responsible for controlling bodily movements.

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Heavy metals such as lead and mercury; solvents like trichloroethylene and perchloroethylene — commonly used in dry cleaning and industrial processes — have also been linked to an increased risk of Parkinson’s disease.

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“These can accumulate in the brain and cause oxidative stress, which can damage neurons. It can also cause damage to the nervous system, leading to Parkinson’s disease.”

While there is no cure for Parkinson’s disease, early diagnosis and treatment can help manage the symptoms and improve quality of life, said Shuchin Bajaj, Founder Director, Ujala Cygnus Group of Hospitals.

“Tremors or shaking, slowness of movement, stiffness in limbs, difficulty maintaining balance and coordination, softer, slurred or slower speech, loss of sense of smell are some early warning signs of Parkinson’s disease that should not be ignored.”

“If you or someone you know is experiencing any of these symptoms, it is important to seek medical attention. A neurologist can help diagnose Parkinson’s disease and provide appropriate treatment options,” Bajaj added.

The treatment of Parkinson’s disease in young people is similar to that in older individuals and may include medication, lifestyle modifications, and surgery in some cases.

“Young people with Parkinson’s may benefit from lifestyle modifications such as regular exercise, a healthy diet, and stress-reduction techniques. These can help improve overall health and well-being and may also help slow the progression of the disease,” Jha said.

In some cases, young people may require surgery such as deep brain stimulation (DBS) that involves implanting electrodes into the brain. DBS has been shown to be effective in improving motor symptoms, reducing medication requirements, and improving quality of life in patients, the doctor added.

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